For many people, hunting mushrooms can be likened to gold fever. One man who understands the lure of the morel is Larry Stanek, a 1971 Hillsboro grad now living in Union Center.
Stanek says this year’s hunting season should begin in a week or two.
“It usually starts after the corn is planted,” he pointed out. “If the ground is warm enough for the corn to germinate, it’s warm enough for mushrooms.
“Morels need two things. There has to be moisture in the ground and we have to have warm weather. About 70 degrees is good. Eighty is better.
“They usually come up over a two or three week period. They shoot up overnight.”
Larry has always found the delicacies in abundance on the farm he purchased from his parents near Trippville in 1976. His brother Roger often helped with the crops and other work, and the two practically lived off the land.
“We lived on venison,” Larry reported. “We hunted. We fished in the summer and ice-fished in the winter.
“My wife Teresa and I raised gardens. When our kids were little, we were poor. We didn’t make that much as farmers.
“We raised whatever the kids would eat: corn, carrots, peas, string beans, you name it. If the kids didn’t like it, we didn’t plant it.”
He and Roger often located morels entirely by accident.
“We would find most of our mushrooms when we were out making or mending fences, or planting oats or corn,” Larry disclosed. “We’d see a dead elm tree nearby and decide to check it out.
“I started carrying a plastic bag in my pocket all of the time.
“One time after a storm, I was checking the fence at the top of a hill with a northern slope. I could see these mushrooms sticking up all through the valley below.
“They were five or six inches tall. I went back and got Teresa, and we picked nine pounds. That was real late in the season, almost Memorial Day weekend.
“Roger finds a lot of his while he’s turkey hunting. He found a bunch Memorial Day weekend last year. He took his shirt off and filled it up.”
The Stanek farm is studded with many dead elms, and Larry stressed those are the likeliest locations for finding morels. However, other trees many prove rewarding, as well.
“Elms are the best,” he said. “They need to be dead for two or three years.
“We also find mushrooms around live ash trees, oak trees, and apple trees. The early ones appear on the southern slopes. The late ones are on the northern slope.
“Morels practically slap you in the face. If you spot one, you better stand still. There are usually more and, if you walk around, you’re going to step on some and smash them.”
Larry believes there are three distinct species of morels.
“The little dark-colored mushrooms come up first,” he explained. “The next group to come up are the bigger, blonde-colored ones. Then you get the really big ones, which are yellow.
“They’re all morel mushrooms, but they’re each a different kind.
“I like the little black morels. They have a milder taste. They have a better flavor.”
Once gathered, the mushrooms need to be cleaned.
“The most important thing is to wash them and get all of the bugs and dirt out,” Stanek emphasized. “We use a real mild salt brine.”
There are many ways to prepare and eat morels.
“You can roll them in flour and fry them in butter,” Larry noted. “You can serve them with scrambled eggs.
“My favorite is a steak and mushroom sandwich. I put morels on top of venison steak and make a sandwich out of it.”
The biggest batch of mushrooms Larry ever found was discovered one day during the 1970s.
“Some of the Hilsboro guys were at the farm mushroom hunting,” he revealed. “John Liska, Al Dieck and, I think, Dave Fanta were there.
“This occurred before I was married. We filled up the back seat of my car. We just kept filling our shirts and dumping them in the back seat.
“I don’t know how many pounds we had, but there were a lot of them.”
Morels can usually be sold to area buyers for good money.
“There used to be a lady who bought ginseng in Readstown,” Larry recalled. “That was in the fall, but in the spring she bought mushrooms.
“Her name was Anna. She was paying $10 a pound one year, and we sold her eight pounds of mushrooms. That was on Memorial Day, the last day she was buying.
“Sometimes the tops can get bad on older morels. She just cut the tops off and kept the stems. She sold her mushrooms to a couple of big restaurants in Chicago.”
Larry summerized his career hunting the morel.
“If you take four bags with you, you won’t find any,” he laughed. “If you don’t carry any bags, you’ll find a shirt-full.”